Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa Themes

Mark Mathabane


Abuse of Power
Kaffir Boy is a searing indictment against South Africa's National Party's bigoted and unethical abuse of power. When the party won the 1948 election based on their promise to legalize apartheid (racial separation of blacks and whites), the minority white population thus became the lawgivers, restricting living areas, schools, medical resources, and movement of the majority black population to specifically designated ghettos outside the city of Johannesburg. Blacks could not leave their homes without passes containing a photograph, address, marital information, and employment status. Mathabane and his family, like all other blacks in South Africa, became victims of a racially abusive system that continued in power until the early nineties.

Equal Opportunity
The lack of equal opportunity is graphically portrayed in Kaffir Boy. Jackson Mathabane is arrested and imprisoned for being temporarily unemployed. While he is in prison, his wife and children, unable to afford food, go every morning to garbage dumps on the outskirts of the ghetto to scavenge for food. They get up early in order to be the first ones there when the garbage trucks arrive from Johannesburg because they know that there will be large quantities of food that have been thrown away by wealthy whites who live in posh neighborhoods. They also discover practically new clothing, furniture, cooking utensils, and other useful objects that are still in excellent condition—objects that they cannot afford to buy.

The contrast between the opportunities open to blacks and those open to whites is further portrayed in the visits of Mathabane and Granny to the Smiths' home in...

(The entire section is 709 words.)